Cosmic allure x Egyptian Mythology + Downtown Chicago Jazz Fringes = Sun Ra
1.2 billion kilometres from planet earth, you’ll find the sixth planet from the Sun and the second-largest in the Solar System, after Jupiter.
Saturn is home to Sun Ra, a pioneer of the most adventurous music from the corners of jazz. Somewhere between the mid-1950’s and the late-1980’s, Herman Sonny Blount pushed the boundaries of art with his cosmic form of music.
Or, at least, that’s his earth-given name when he was born in Alabama, 1914. Sometime during his stay at college in the mid-1930’s, he was allegedly teleported to Saturn and given a message from the other-worldly entourage…
“My whole body changed into something else. I could see through myself. And I went up... I wasn't in human form... I landed on a planet that I identified as Saturn… they teleported me and I was down on [a] stage with them. They wanted to talk with me. They had one little antenna on each ear. A little antenna over each eye. They talked to me. They told me to stop [attending college] because there was going to be great trouble in schools... the world was going into complete chaos... I would speak [through music], and the world would listen. That's what they told me.”
Since that day, he identified solely as an angel from the planet Saturn, under the alias of Sun Ra. Throughout his life he consistently denied any ties to his prior identity, as he was sent from Saturn to preach peace through the unusual medium of avant garde jazz. Between Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia, the man formerly known as Herman Sonny Blount travelled across the western sphere of our human home to spread his message.
It was difficult for crowds and critics at the time to take Ra seriously; his sound was shrouded with various costumes and mythology that borrowed equally from ancient Egyptian mythology and science fiction. If his cosmic showmanship wasn’t difficult enough to comprehend, he also released hundreds of records on his own Saturn label, often without formal sleeve notes. Inaccurate personnel listings, no recording dates, and often printed in small batches, the mystery of Sun Ra wasn’t going to be solved from the details on the physical copies.
His sporadic methods often led to his band comprising of many different faces over the years. Like Saturn’s 62 moons, the Arkestra band were strong in numbers, and the ever-changing lineup continuously orbited their glorious leader.
Titan is Saturn’s largest moon; in the Arkestra’s case, this is Marshall Allen. The alto saxophonist was Ra’s biggest moon, orbiting closest to his side. He still leads the Arkestra to this day, carrying on the legacy.
So despite him being taken back to Saturn, Sun Ra's output endures the test of time, with critics finally warming round to him in the 21st century, and with Marshall Allen's continued efforts to keep the Arkestra performing around our globe.
Before delving into the illustrious catalogue, be sure you've got enough fuel for your interplanetary venture. And remember to keep an open mind.
Godspeed, all earth humans. Let Sun Ra take you 'round the rings of Saturn.